City Council candidates who earned more than 50 percent of the vote in the May 7 election avoided the runoff; the pair of at-large seats won by incumbents Debbie Ortega and Robin Kniech were exceptions. If no one vying for membership in specific districts hit that mark, the two top finishers advanced to the second round on June 4. Four candidates appeared on the ballot for District 9, with incumbent Albus Brooks, at 44 percent, and Candi CdeBaca, just behind at 43 percent, leading the field.
We submitted the following questions via email to the ten city council finalists: District 1's Mike Somma and Amanda Sandoval, District 3's Veronica Barela and Jamie Torres, District 5's Mary Beth Susman and Amanda Sawyer, District 9's Brooks and CdeBaca, and District 10's Wayne New and Chris Hinds. All of them agreed to participate.
Get to know more about District 9 candidate and neighborhood organizer CdeBaca below.
Westword: How would you describe yourself and the reasons you decided to run for city council?
Candi CdeBaca: I am a social worker, youth educator, policy expert and fifth-generation native of northeast Denver. I live in the same home in Swansea that my great-grandmother lived in nearly eighty years ago. I was raised by a single mother, my grandparents, my great-grandma and my community. Before my grandpa retired, he was a public service linesman. My other grandpa was a Coors bottler until he retired. My grandma was a janitor for St. Joseph's Hospital until she retired. My great-grandma never made it past the second grade, because she was one of thirteen siblings who were sharecroppers on a beet farm. My mother was unable to maintain a career with us three kids and no degree, so she took on janitorial jobs whenever they were available. As a teenager, I took on the role of head of household, becoming the primary caretaker for my grandmother and siblings.
I was fortunate enough to become the first person in my family to graduate from high school, doing so as valedictorian, and went on with a full-ride scholarship to pursue a bachelor's and master's degree in social work at the University of Denver, where I became the first and youngest student to complete a dual degree at the Graduate School of Social Work. While in college, I co-founded a youth organization where we train, employ and organize underrepresented youth to insert their voices into policy. My entire career has been spent amplifying the voices of the marginalized and ensuring representation at all levels of our society. My debt to society is being paid through a steadfast commitment to servant leadership. I am running to represent the community that has been home to generations of my family and insert experiences and historical perspectives that have been repeatedly left out of the conversation. I am running because I know that the love I have for my community runs deep and is unparalleled, and I intend to show our community what a generations-old love affair with a community can look like in action. District 9 is the heart of Denver and is the heart of my own existence.
My campaign is about people power and amplifying the voice of the people. I have organized community over the last five years in District 9 to collectively build political power and collective ownership of our land, labor and resources. I have dedicated my career to building leadership among the youth inheritors of this community, and I am determined to protect a city that they can lead and transform. I’ve heard great concern in our community about many issues including housing and wages, traffic and pollution, and transparency and accountability in our government. As a councilwoman, I aim to address all of these issue areas with people, planet and historical context in mind, as I have always done in the past.
What makes your district unique?
District 9 is not only my heart, but also the heart of Denver. Our district houses many of Denver’s first and oldest neighborhoods, including Globeville, Elyria-Swansea, Five Points, Cole, Clayton, Whittier, Curtis Park and City Park.
After heated debates leading up to the 2012 redistricting, District 9 absorbed the most economically and racially diverse neighborhoods in the city. Until then, neighborhoods downtown were split among two districts.
Currently, District 9 is the fastest-growing district with the highest concentration of public and private investment. Some of the notable city investments include: City Park Golf Course redesign, the Platte to Park Hill stormwater project, I-70 expansion and National Western redevelopment.
District 9 is also home to the highest concentration of rail transit in the region and some of the city’s top tourist attractions, including lower downtown, Union Station, the Auraria campus, the Denver Center for Performing Arts, the Convention Center, the Denver Coliseum, Coors Field, the Pepsi Center, the Welton Street Cultural District and the RiNo Art District.
Other notable challenges and characteristics of this district are that we are also home to the highest concentration of marijuana cultivation facilities in the country, the most polluted zip code in the nation and historically redlined/segregated neighborhoods. Our district is a collection of neighborhoods and interests that hold the promise of opportunity to lead the nation if we can leverage such diversity for racial, social and economic justice.
What is the biggest issue affecting your district?
The biggest issue facing District 9 is the unmanaged growth that not only favors developers, profit and cheap construction, but also deepens the growing economic inequality in our city. Housing and affordability are a symptom of the growing economic inequity. This irresponsible growth has ramifications for the environment, traffic and cost of living.
Now that the Right to Survive ordinance has been defeated, how would you address the issues of homelessness cited by both the measure's supporters and its opponents?
Opponents of 300 cited concerns about allowing people to sleep on the streets, in our front yards and parks without access to trash, showers or toilets. Supporters of 300 cited concerns about decriminalizing homelessness and creating real opportunities for housing. We all agree that we can do better, and now we are tasked with doing so. I believe Denver needs to take on a heavier responsibility for the growing economic inequity in our city. Under the seven-year-old camping ban, the homelessness issue has only gotten worse, and there have been no policy solutions offered or meaningfully enacted to address the reason people are camping. It just criminalizes the poorest among us.
The first part of peoples’ complaints about the homeless is the aesthetic of homelessness — the trash, the tents, the public defecation and urination. For those issues, the simple solution is to de-privatize trash, increase the amount of mobile public restrooms and create designated spaces for the homeless during daytime hours when even those who sleep in shelters are kicked out with nowhere to go. A 24-hour shelter owned and operated by the city staffed with human-service workers and mental health professionals is absolutely necessary.
The second part is long-term strategy and focus. I would consolidate departments working on homelessness to cut the bureaucratic red tape limiting our city’s ability to truly house people first. Many high-quality transitional housing efforts and plans exist but do not live in the departments that have the resources to fund those ideas. I would increase our revenue stream for housing efforts by increasing the linkage fee and exploring fees on entities with vacant or short-term rental properties exacerbating the problem of vacancy vs. need. I would work on a comprehensive plan to address the full spectrum of housing needs in a holistic fashion rather than demonizing and virtually ignoring the most vulnerable. The reality is, we will not be able to build our way out of this problem fast enough. We also need to explore the way we use land and what permits and zoning changes we are advancing without careful consideration of our city’s actual needs.
If we have learned anything from the past and post-Civil War-era vagrancy laws/black codes, criminalizing a human condition is a constitutional violation and should not be tolerated in a modern U.S. society. Real solutions require a recognition of the root causes of inequity, not simply an assumption that everyone can and should be able to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. Above all, we need a value shift that forces us to recognize that our rugged individualism will not serve our society. We need to work collectively to lift the heaviest challenges in our city.
How would you tackle Denver's affordable-housing issues?
Housing is a complex issue that needs multi-pronged solutions. When elected, I will tackle the issue immediately by doing the following:
• Divert housing resources from 80-120 AMI [Area Median Income] to 30-0 AMI
• Invest in opening a city-owned and -operated 24-hour shelter with wraparound resources and 24-hour housing hotline — we have the properties to do this, we need the leadership
• Consolidate Denver's Road Home, homeless services and affordable-housing development into one department
• Rather than send police to homeless people, initiate and deploy a triage mobile service of social worker instead to pipeline homeless into services
• Provide public lockers outside city service buildings for homeless people to store belongings while they work or search for work
• Provide public mobile restrooms and public trash receptacles
• Expand employment of the homeless with connected pipelines to housing
• Zoning code reform to allow and expand housing co-operatives, tiny homes, micro-units
• Adaptive re-use of vacant hospital and school facilities for dormitory-style transitional housing and service provision
• Taxation of hotels, AirBnB, vacant units, property-flipping sales to fund solutions
• Increase linkage fee with a proportionate burden on large-scale developments
How concerned are you about gentrification in your district, and what can be done to strike the right balance?
Gentrification is about policies that reorient cities away from serving their residents to generating profit for the wealthy and corporations. This is absolutely a concern in my district, as we have witnessed over a 10 percent loss in black home ownership across our district over the last decade and are the top city nationally for displacing Latinos. In a district with some of the few historically black and brown neighborhoods, we must protect all people from the forces that aim to chew up and spit out anyone who does not present a high enough profit-generating value. Stability in our communities is beneficial to everyone. We need to continue advancing as a city while also implementing policies to protect the stable and diverse communities that have attracted many new residents coming to Denver. The only color gentrification sees is green, and it has no allegiance to anyone. It is a perpetually starving machine that will devour any and all groups after they have served their function.
Do you support rent control in Denver?
Yes, I support an iteration of rent stabilization that takes into consideration failed implementation in other contexts and improves upon what we know has worked.
Would you expand the tiny homes concept? If so, how? If not, why not?
I’d prefer to focus on more permanent solutions that serve larger groups of people, but I do love the village governance of tiny homes. I would love to see the governance model expanded in more permanent structures like abandoned and reused motels and vacant schools or hospitals.
Would you support a higher minimum wage in Denver? If so, where would you like to see the minimum wage set?
Yes. I think we need to set a minimum wage that is tied to the cost of living, especially housing. If renters should ideally be paying only one-third or their income on rent, the minimum wage to afford a one-bedroom at $1,475/month would be $27.65/hour. I would pair a solution like increasing minimum wage with rent stabilization to match. Knowing that many smaller businesses cannot absorb this cost, I think setting the minimum wage at $15/hr. makes sense for now.
Is development in Denver being done responsibly?
What should be done to address problems related to traffic and traffic safety in your district?
The amount of construction in our district is a safety concern in itself. We need to re-envision our street grid in a way that connects streets and neighborhoods. Permitting for construction needs to be streamlined in a way that does not concentrate construction barriers in a single neighborhood. In order to reduce congestion and pollution, we need to build the appropriate infrastructure for bikes, pedestrians and public transportation.
What improvements do you believe should be made to Denver's public-transportation system?
I would like to see a three-tiered approach to public transportation, as well as a comprehensive effort to connect our entire street grid. I think RTD should not be the sole source of public transit, as its revenue stream (state) will never allow Denver to meet the needs of our urban context. RTD should remain as supplementary. Denver should start its own department of transportation and either lease to buy RTD assets in the city or pass a bond to launch the department. I think we should be able to own and operate our own transportation, so moving to a revenue stream we control exclusively would be the best option for long-term sustainability. Consolidating areas of the general fund for this is a possibility, but even as a last resort, a revenue stream we could explore would be related likely to a gas tax — which is more likely to pass in Denver rather than statewide. The third tier is partnership with Uber and Lyft for their shared-ride functions to fill the gaps and utilize the digital infrastructure they have for mobility.
Would you work to expand Denver's bicycle network? If so, how?
I think we have placed bike lanes in some of the most dangerous areas and none of them connect and few are going anywhere but in and out of downtown. I think we need a comprehensive network of connections and we can place them easily a block or two off of main car arteries. Sadly, even with the deficiencies, our district has the most protected bike lanes, but they are not super-efficient, so they don't connect to all of our neighborhoods. My neighbors in Swansea and Globeville or Skyland have little to no real connections outside of very dangerous arteries and no protected lanes.
What can and should be done to improve law enforcement in Denver?
I am the only candidate in my race endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police. I think that we have heard multiple times that our police feel they are under-resourced, especially in areas of high need. We need to make sure that law enforcement has the opportunity to focus their limited resources on real crime and not policing the homeless. We need to build systems that shift our focus to restorative justice and community policing. Our cops need more intensive support with training and ongoing mental health services. Root causes of nightclub shootings should be assessed and addressed in a way that reduces the need for public law enforcement’s resources while incentivizing owners to be proactive with solutions.
Would you like the City Council to have more mechanisms to keep the mayor accountable? If so, what changes would you like to see?
Yes. I would like to see a charter change that relinquishes more power to the council. I think independent monitoring needs to be strengthened, and certain appointments should be made by or approved by a panel so the mayor does not have unilateral appointment power over such a large number of department and agency heads. I would also like to see City Council have more say over the budget.
Are there other major issues we haven't mentioned that are important to you, and if so, what are they?
The amount of corporate welfare in this city is disproportionately burdening the public with the cost of our growth. We need to prioritize people over profit and build the bones of a city we want 100 years from now, not just what feels like it will be fun for the moment. Sustainable, connected, functional ecosystems in every neighborhood must be the goal. People-centered planning and decision-making will deepen the public’s investment in meeting our growth goals as a city. I have always worked with broad coalitions on solutions addressing our city’s biggest problems. It is imperative to our democracy that we have government we can trust. I am proud of the work I’ve done leading on issues of housing, the environment and the strength of our democracy. I hope readers will learn more about me at CandiforCouncil.org and I hope to earn your vote by June 4th. Our track record of leading with innovative, people-centered solutions and accountability is unparalleled and that is the work I plan to bring to council.